North Belfast Housing Spotlight


North Belfast Housing

Mandy McAuley reports on a deal over a multi-million pound project at Girdwood in North Belfast, and asks at what price it has been struck.


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A groundbreaking political deal on Girdwood has been made public,

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ending years of stalemate in North Belfast. There has always been a

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vision for Girdwood to be a shared site with a variety of different

:00:34.:00:42.

uses on it. What we now have is an greed plan in the way forward in

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that regard. This site is a great opportunity for regeneration.

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This's going to happen. There is all party agreement from North

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Belfast. A vast piece of land that has been left untouched for the

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past six years is to be transformed into a world-class community

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development of business, culture and tourism. 27 acres of shared

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space in an area devastated by some of the worse sectarian violence of

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the Troubles. The Girdwood deal has been heralded as a political rye

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triumph here. Evidence that the main parties in government have

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finally left sectarian politics in the past and are now committed to

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working together towards a shared future. That shared future does not

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include shared housing. Homes built for Catholics and Protestants here

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will be more than a quarter of a mile apart, on opposite ends of the

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site. What's happening here has nothing to do with bringing

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Protestants and Roman Catholics together. It an exercise where they

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can door knock and the DUP can say to their people, we got house there

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is. Sinn Fein can say, we got houses there. Housing has always

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been the deal breaker on this site. So why has agreement been reached

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now? The answer is money. The chance of �10 million European

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grant for Girdwood is about to run out. There has been pressure to

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come up with a deal ahead of the deadline. Tonight, we can reveal

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that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the body set up 41 years

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ago, to ensure the fair allocation of houses here, has been completely

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frozen out of the Girdwood deal. The housing executive has been one

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of the great success stories of the last 40 years. Not least because it

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embedded in our politics and public policy that housing needs informed

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housing allocation. If that principle, or if that approach is

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compromised, that should send out alarm bells. A former Chairman of

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the Housing Executive say it is must be protected from political

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interference. I have been disappointed by the lack of concern

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there appears to be on the part of some political parties in defending

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an organisation and a model which has been seen to work well in

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Northern Ireland since its establishment in 1971. It's

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absolutely fundamental to there being confidence in the delivery of

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social housing in Northern Ireland that it should be based on need

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rather than on some arcane territorial dispute. Yesterday,

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politicians didn't want to talk about the number of houses they

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have planned for the site. We can reveal that it falls far short of

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the numbers recommended for Catholics in the area by the

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Housing Executive, the decision raises difficult questions for

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nationalist politician in the area, in particular Sinn Fein. I find it

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inexplicable this a party like Sinn Fein, which talks about civil

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rights and talk abouts equality and so on, is lying down on one of the

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very basic issues that started the whole civil rights movement, which

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was fair housing. The fact that Sinn Fein are agreing to a lot less

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than what is needed, it is no not in their interest to do that,

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indicates to me there is some deal The vast Girdwood site, on one of

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the most bitterly contested peace lines in North Belfast. Six years

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ago, the Ministry of Defence handed the former army barracks to the DSD,

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the Department for Social Development, hoping a new use for

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the land would transform an area plighted by sectarian conflict and

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poverty. The plan has always been that the site would generate

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millions of pounds and much-needed jobs for the area. We thought, this

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is going to be a state-of-the-art development which will lift the

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spirits and hopes of all the people of that part of the city. That was

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the vision which lay behind. This we had seen what had happened down

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by the Lagganside, the development changed that whole part of the city.

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The Titanic quarter was being talked about. That was going to be

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a transformtive development on the other side of the river. As part of

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its shareded future initiative, the Stormont Executive insisted there

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would be no funding for the scheme without agreement from both

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communities. It would have to be a development as characterised as

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being shared space, neutral space and people from both parties of the

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community could buy into it. It would not be owned by one part of

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the community to the exclusion of the other part of the community.

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What prevented agreement for the last six years has been the issue

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of housing. Catholics and Protestants in the area have

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completely different housing needs. On the one side is a growing

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Catholic community, in chronic need of new housing, but with little

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available land to build on. On the other side, a declining Protestant

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community that it says it is being left to decay and fears being

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overrun on any site dominated by Catholics. Added to the mix,

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decades of sectarian conflict in an area which has more interfaces than

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anywhere else in Northern Ireland. It's not quite as easy as saying,

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there is an empty bit of land, let's build houses there. There are

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security issues, there are safety issues. There are strong senses of

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allegiance to territory and to place. That is under pinned very

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much by numerous security barriers, peace calls across the city which

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make any form of housing, build, new build housing very difficult to

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implement without, not only affecting the political geography,

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but also the sectarian go geography. Sinn Fein is closing the gap on the

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DUP majority in this constituency. There are fears that those in

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desperate need of housing have been sacrificed in the battle for

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political votes The Protestant population has been leaving North

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Belfast for 30 years. The real issue is the constituency and the

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votes. With the fact that they will not build houses for Catholics,

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still the nationalist vote has increased. The nationalist

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representation has increased. The fear of the unionist is that North

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Belfast will become a Sinn Fein constituency. According to Housing

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Executive figures, the clear majority of those who need to be

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rehoused as a matter of urgent si of Belfast are from the nationalist.

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Among them 60 young families. Connor and Elaine Matthews and

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their children, all under ten, are one such family. They live in a two

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up, two down house in the New Lodge have been on the waiting list for

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two years. This is through into the kitchen? Yes. Not much space?

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room at all. You have this tiny space at the back. Where do the

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chin children play? They play in their room or the living room.

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There is no other space for them to play. Shall we look at the

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bedrooms? There is little prospect of the family being rehoused soon.

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The house has single glaze tkwhraizing -- glazing and there

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are signs of damp. In this first bedroom this is you and your

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husband and Jennifer sleep. There is barely enough room to walk in

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past this cot. There is not. Jennifer is ready to go into the

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other room with the girls. Three girls in there? Yes. Why they need

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a bigger house, in North Belfast 350 people are now living in hostel

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accommodation, the majority in nation nags areas, while they wait

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for a home of their own. James and his three-year-old twinnes had been

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a hostel for almost two years. children were like nine months,

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touching a year, so they were. When I went down to the Housing

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Executive I said, we are on one couch. First I was in my brother's

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house then we went to my mum's house. My mum had two bedrooms.

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With the twins under a year, James assumed a host el -- hostle would

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be a temporary arrangement. I was scared when I first came. I was

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scared for the children. I really was. I didn't know who was going to

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be around me. Maybe drug takers or alcohol people or, you know... I

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didn't know what was going to be the score, like, when I went in

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there. It was really frightening at first. I wasn't coming Ouattara my

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front door just in case. After a while I noticed that people were OK.

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In recent weeks, James has been allocated a home in a nearby

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nationalist area. It will be more freedom, more space, yes. It's

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fantastic. It really is. I was overjoyed when I got the letter

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through, the offer through for the house. It was my last offer.I

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looked at it and went, brilliant, absolutely fantastic. He is looking

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forward to a new start for his children. In these streets, it's

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not unusual for teenage brothers and sisters to grow up together

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sharing one bedroom. I brought you round here because you can see the

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density. Front doors are a few yards apart. There are no gardens.

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These things were built above to stick in an extra bedroom. They are

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on top of each other. It's frightening. This is as dense as it

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gets. They are building mini blocks of flats in the middle of this.

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That is the entire park for the kids in this area. We have no

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ground that we can move to. Nowhere to build. No green spaces. We are

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bursting at the seams. Housing executive figures show that over

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90% of the new houses in North Belfast are needed by nationalist.

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Nationalists hoped that need would be reflected in yesterday's

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announcement, but actual housing figures were omitted. So far,

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community representatives on both sides have not been given any

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details of the deal. On this plan, there are two clearly marked

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residential areas. One of those areas is here, on the nationalist

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Antrim Road side of Girdwood a site which has capacity for 70 new

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houses. Here, right at the other end of the site, just outside the

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Girdwood boundary wall, on the unionist Clifton Park Avenue, a

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site with a capacity for 30 new houses. Will there be enough

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Protestants to fill those houses? Across the road from Girdwood,

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Nelson McCausland, the Housing Minister and MLA for this area has

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put in place a plan to build 45 new houses over the next three years in

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the unionist Lower Oldpark as well as the refurbishment of 26 old

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houses at a cost of �4 million. The Housing Executive figure show there

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are three families in urgent need of housing in the Lower Oldpark.

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His justification is that he is fulfill fulfilling that any deal

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must go hand in hand with surrounding communities.

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securing the regeneration of the deprived residential areas adjacent

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to the site. There is a need to rebuild communities in that area. I

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went to the Lower Oldpark and tried to develop the same for that area.

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That was always to be consistent with the principle. It's the

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principle that I think the vast majority will live up to. The

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principle of housing need determines housing allocation. If

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there is a genuine need for unionist housing that should be met.

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If there is a greater genuine need for nationalist housing that should

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be met. You cannot compromise those principles because they will

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struggle for and are won and have served us well. Some suggest that

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the Housing Minister's real commitment is to the repopulation

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of the constituency with Protestant There is the politics of housing

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which comes back to the symbolic need to maintain areas with

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populations in them and also the political and voting demographics

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of north Belfast. They come together which is the need for

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putting houses in a world park and hoping you can get people to go in

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and repopulate the airier and live there and stay there. You know the

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area, do you think people will move back in? It does not had a strong

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statement population four years. There is not a great demand at the

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moment, that's not to say you could not manufacture a demand if the

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houses come. The Housing Minister is now supporting an advertising

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campaign to bring Protestants back to the low altar Park. Brochures

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like this have been designed in a bid to persuade protestants on

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waiting lists. -- to change their area of choice in order to help

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repopulate here. It is looking at ways to repopulate the area, for

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people to come back in, there is also a high waiting list in

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surrounding areas on Shang call there. We are hoping to link into

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that list to bring people back into the community. Senior officials

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inside the Housing Executive have told us that while there is a

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genuine need for some regeneration in the low old park it is hard to

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justify it allocating so many new houses and an area where there is

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so little me then that a time whether ministers budget has been

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virtually halved. Brian Feeney, a historian and former SDLP

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councillor in North Belfast, says is similar process failed during

:15:29.:15:32.

the violence of the Troubles. He questions whether the housing

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minister is correctly interpreting the commitment of the vision to

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regeneration. 1986, when they were trying to build houses in almost

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the same place, they could not gut -- get any candidates. There were

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no takers. They could not anybody to come and live in houses -- get

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anybody. The huge demand for housing is on the Catholic side and

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building houses is not regeneration, it is naive to pretend to building

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houses is regeneration. It is not just nationalists who doubt

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Protestants will return to the area. Fred, a former Ulster Unionist

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councillor and MLA agrees it is unlikely large numbers will come

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back. This idea that somehow there will be a flood of Protestants

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returning to North Belfast is nonsense. What is the sense in

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banding and regenerating areas if people do not move back? There are

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housing prices within Protestant communities and with in different

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fields. Housing is a complicated issue. There are people living in

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conditions that are not satisfying. You cannot subdivide a housing list

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and a social need list into a party or voter list. You have to decide

:17:05.:17:08.

who in this instance is most in need of a house. Who needs it more

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than someone else? Sid says approving houses where there is no

:17:15.:17:19.

proven need undermines the principle on which the housing

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effective was established. should not be building houses where

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there is not that proven need. One issue of concern is why is that

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being done because resources are scarce? And if housing is not being

:17:33.:17:38.

constructed in accordance with what is the proven strategic need

:17:38.:17:43.

produced on a well established evidence based, that would be a

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matter for examination because it would represent a nonsensical

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expenditure of public funds. allocation of houses has historical

:17:51.:17:55.

significance in Northern Ireland. Catholics have long protested over

:17:55.:18:00.

discrimination. Fair distribution of public housing was one of the

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key demands of the civil rights movement and led to the setting-up

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of the current Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The hope was

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that in establishing that the organisation we could bring

:18:11.:18:16.

fairness to allocation of housing and also develop a more strategic

:18:16.:18:21.

approach to the construction of housing in Northern Ireland. What

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is the level of need in terms of the number of new homes required to

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be constructed, then how do you allocate those homes? In 2011 did

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then how he had approved plans to build 200 houses on dead wood, the

:18:39.:18:44.

number recommended by the Housing Executive. Had these houses being

:18:44.:18:49.

built and allocated on the basis of proven need? The vast majority

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would have gone to Catholics. Four months later, when Nelson

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McCausland became housing minister, he still the decision, citing the

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stipulation of the Gurd would plan for the agreement of the Protestant

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community next to the site. What is disturbing is that of all the

:19:12.:19:15.

schemes in Northern Ireland in relation to housing this was the

:19:15.:19:19.

only one remove from the programme by the minister and without

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explanation. Many suspect his decision is based on political

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prejudice, many suspect that, I hope not. However, on the face of

:19:35.:19:43.

it the minister's decision is perverse. But the minister insisted

:19:43.:19:46.

he was up holding the principle of a shared future for everyone in

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north Belfast. However, it was the first time a housing minister here

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had overturned a recommendation that a rising Executive involving

:19:55.:20:04.

Did a Minister ever ignore the advice, or recommendation of the

:20:05.:20:11.

Executive that had been made on objective proven need? No, the

:20:11.:20:16.

position was that the government would establish the broad policy

:20:16.:20:19.

which the expected the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to follow

:20:19.:20:24.

but it was clearly recognised that the Northern Ireland Housing

:20:24.:20:27.

Executive was the regional strategic housing authority,

:20:27.:20:31.

therefore there was no role, no scope for any direct rule minister

:20:31.:20:37.

to play any part in the question of determining need. There is no

:20:37.:20:41.

question that the housing Executive and other bodies are under much

:20:41.:20:44.

more pressure now than they wear under direct rule because under

:20:44.:20:50.

direct rule there was a housing branch in the Northern Ireland

:20:50.:20:54.

Office and that could always step in when pressure was put on by a

:20:54.:20:57.

local MP, for example, but that is not happening any more because it

:20:57.:21:03.

is local politicians who are carving up things to suit

:21:03.:21:07.

themselves. But this is not a view shared by the DUP. It sees the

:21:07.:21:13.

provision of housing in the areas as an essential part of

:21:13.:21:20.

regenerating the Unionist community. Here in the low were called Park

:21:20.:21:26.

the population has declined. Those left behind have found themselves

:21:26.:21:32.

living behind boarded-up properties. Local residents insist new houses

:21:32.:21:37.

are long overdue in an area that was decimated by the conflict and

:21:37.:21:47.
:21:47.:21:49.

then left to decay. What happened The area is now known as a Peace

:21:49.:21:54.

Wall. There would have been a tax on individuals houses, this was at

:21:54.:21:57.

the height of the Troubles. Families then started to move out,

:21:57.:22:02.

they had Smalley and children and did not be faced with the danger.

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Slowly but surely you would get one resident and then the houses

:22:08.:22:12.

vandalised, not boarded up in time. The fear of the other community is

:22:12.:22:16.

also are the heart of the dispute. For some Protestants the allocation

:22:16.:22:20.

of a large number of houses to Catholics, albeit on proven need,

:22:20.:22:24.

would be a threat to the survival of the community in the area. They

:22:25.:22:29.

point to the near by a Torrens estate as an example of what they

:22:29.:22:35.

believe could happen. 10 years ago the estate was a small Protestant

:22:35.:22:39.

enclave surrounded by a growing nationalist population. The last a

:22:39.:22:46.

distant family is left in 2004. Today it is predominantly Catholic.

:22:46.:22:50.

Pete has worked with both communities here for many years.

:22:50.:22:54.

One of the problems with a small population is it is hard to

:22:54.:22:57.

reproduce itself because it becomes more elderly so there was a

:22:57.:23:03.

demographic issue because of low birth rates. Some people did leave

:23:03.:23:10.

because of intimidation, that is clear, some look for better housing

:23:10.:23:13.

but there was intimidation, I do not think there was any doubt of

:23:13.:23:23.
:23:23.:23:24.

that. Four years later Torrance sparked a bitter debate.

:23:24.:23:29.

departure of those folk was overseen by a Sinn Fein councillor

:23:29.:23:33.

from north Belfast who was there as the workmen were put off the site

:23:33.:23:39.

by Republicans when the work men attempted to put up a small fence

:23:39.:23:43.

to protect those Protestant homes from serious and sustained

:23:44.:23:51.

sectarian attack. I am disappointed Nelson McCausland sectarian eyes is

:23:51.:23:56.

this issue. It is something that affects all the people in north

:23:56.:24:02.

Belfast. For many the lesson of these areas is that they need of

:24:02.:24:06.

families for homes cannot come before the consequences for

:24:06.:24:10.

community relations of changing the population balance him bitterly

:24:10.:24:16.

divided areas. However, the head of the equality commission is clear

:24:16.:24:21.

about where the priority should live. A public body cannot height -

:24:21.:24:25.

- hide behind promoting good relations in order to avoid a

:24:25.:24:30.

quality duties. A unionist may feel alienated but the situation for us

:24:30.:24:35.

would be in the allocation of houses anything other of need would

:24:35.:24:42.

mean the housing allocated, whoever it is, would be in breach of their

:24:43.:24:47.

statutory duty. Others argue cannot for the principle of equality ahead

:24:47.:24:54.

of the reality of life on the ground in Northern Ireland. You can

:24:54.:24:57.

only have proper air quality when you have built a society that is

:24:57.:25:01.

fair, but has good relations. If people are afraid to live where

:25:01.:25:07.

they want to live, that is not a quality. We understand the housing

:25:07.:25:12.

deal being brokered is close to the DUP's desire to promote community

:25:12.:25:15.

relations than for the desire of those who wish to see housing

:25:15.:25:19.

allocated on the basis of proven need. Nevertheless, in the spirit

:25:19.:25:22.

of something is better than nothing, nationalist parties appeared to

:25:22.:25:26.

have signed up to the deal. But that has led to frustration among

:25:26.:25:35.

some in the community. There is a general sense within the community

:25:35.:25:39.

that 40 years plus after the advent of the civil rights movement that

:25:39.:25:49.
:25:49.:25:50.

they still feel they are being discriminated against. Unionist

:25:50.:25:53.

politicians might congratulate themselves privately on a strategy

:25:53.:25:59.

that is holding back some sort of green tide of republicanism,

:25:59.:26:03.

nationalism and of Belfast. It is a narrow, short-term, dangerous

:26:03.:26:12.

vision because it is entrenching sectarianism. What is to some

:26:12.:26:16.

entrenching sectarianism is to some of reversing historic Unionist

:26:16.:26:21.

decline. It is clear that since Nelson McCausland became housing

:26:21.:26:25.

minister his interpretation of allocating houses has differed from

:26:25.:26:31.

his predecessors. In the new large Carlisle area there are 165 cases

:26:31.:26:35.

of urgent need amongst nationalists, the minister has allocated 35 new

:26:35.:26:41.

homes here. In Cliftonville, where there are 170 cases, a has approved

:26:41.:26:48.

just 18. -- he has approved. Of his interpretation of the proven need

:26:48.:26:53.

real -- role in national areas has been frugal, has the almost

:26:53.:27:00.

completely ignored it in other areas? The answer is used a special

:27:00.:27:04.

provision to seek emergency of approval from Housing Executive for

:27:04.:27:08.

the new houses in the lower old park on the basis of regeneration

:27:08.:27:14.

without having to establish any proven need. There needs to be a

:27:15.:27:19.

re-examination of the most urgent priority and that is the basis on

:27:19.:27:23.

which expenditure decisions ought to be taken rather than some kind

:27:24.:27:28.

of social engineering. Many nationalists are unhappy that the

:27:28.:27:33.

principle of proven need is being disregarded but are very reluctant

:27:33.:27:43.
:27:43.:27:44.

We are extremely worried that if we don't agree to whatever is put in

:27:44.:27:51.

front of us we will be seen to beholding back progress. That is

:27:51.:27:55.

not the case. This is about fairness. This is about equality

:27:55.:27:59.

and social justice. We are not saying who is going to Girdwood or

:27:59.:28:03.

any side we identify. We are saying, there is a housing issue there, we

:28:03.:28:07.

have the biggest waiting list in the North, we want to address it.

:28:07.:28:11.

It doesn't mat is on that waiting list. The bottom line in North

:28:11.:28:18.

Belfast is about voting and political geography. Over the last

:28:18.:28:22.

two elections you have seen the Sinn Fein proportion in the

:28:22.:28:26.

Westminster elections rise in comparison to the DUP vote. You

:28:26.:28:31.

can't get away from the fact that housing is linked to politics.

:28:31.:28:36.

Housing is linked to the power balance between Sinn Fein and the

:28:36.:28:40.

DUP. Politicians say they are buying into a shared future in

:28:40.:28:43.

North Belfast. The equality commission says it's keeping a

:28:43.:28:49.

watching brief on how events unfold in relation to housing. What I can

:28:49.:28:54.

say very simply is, equality isn't one for you, one for me. We have

:28:54.:28:57.

never said that. If anyone feels they have been discriminated

:28:57.:29:01.

against as a result of a an application of a policy, they would

:29:01.:29:06.

need to take forward a complaint to the quality commission. We would

:29:06.:29:10.

investigate it and if there were grounds we look into it. Last night,

:29:10.:29:13.

the Housing Executive had not been officially informed about the

:29:14.:29:17.

detail in the Girdwood deal. A figure within the Housing Executive

:29:17.:29:20.

told Spotlight it was almost beyond belief that no-one was willing or

:29:20.:29:24.

brave enough to put the plans in front of them. Officials have told

:29:24.:29:27.

us they are extremely concerned about the Housing Minister's

:29:27.:29:31.

decision to spend millions of pounds in an area where there is

:29:31.:29:36.

not enough depanned. They say they could be disciplined if they speak

:29:36.:29:40.

publicly. Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are vocal about their desire

:29:40.:29:44.

for a shared future. They have failed to translate that vision

:29:44.:29:48.

into people living together on Girdwood. John Dunlop says people

:29:48.:29:52.

will only live together if politic particulars -- politicians lead the

:29:52.:29:56.

way. We need to get from politicians is leadership. If

:29:56.:30:00.

leadership is being shown from the top. If this kind of vision of a

:30:00.:30:05.

shared future is being driven by people in leadership roles it will

:30:05.:30:09.

have an effect on the ground. Fein is the same as the DUP rule.

:30:09.:30:13.

They are in a difficult position. The enormity of that difficulty is

:30:13.:30:18.

that neither of them actually believes in the share future.

:30:18.:30:24.

Neither of them agrees on the definition of a shared future.

:30:24.:30:27.

the DUP and Sinn Fein declined to take part in this programme. In

:30:27.:30:35.

statements they both emphasised that the grid grid deal achieved

:30:35.:30:39.

all part agreement. Sinn Fein said housing should be allocated on

:30:39.:30:43.

basis of need and responsibility for implement that policy resting

:30:43.:30:47.

with the Housing Executive. Nelson McCausland is about to announce the

:30:47.:30:50.

Mandy McAuley reports on a deal over a multi-million pound project at Girdwood in North Belfast, and asks at what price has it been struck?


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